Like the best roller-coasters, Death Proof takes an eternity to get moving, but once in top gear, Quentin Tarantino’s thriller will leave you hanging on tighter than poor Zoe Bell, who clings grimly to a speeding car’s bonnet during much of the climactic car chase. Uma Thurman’s stunt double in the Kill Bill films, Bell plays herself in Death Proof, one of the eight feisty chicks who find themselves under attack by misogynist throwback Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), whose custom-designed car makes him invulnerable while in the driver’s seat.
Like Jackie Brown, Death Proof reprises the look and feel of 70s exploitation cinema, replacing the male anti-heroes of 1971’s Vanishing Point or 1974’s Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry with feisty girl-power chicks who enjoy nothing better that putting macho men like Mike firmly in their place. Rosario Dawson, Rose McGowan and Tracie Thoms all hit their targets for the girls’ team, while Russell comes over as genuinely creepy, but the real star is Tarantino’s kick-ass eye for high-speed stuntwork.
Yet despite its many endearing qualities, the strong meat in Death Proof amounts to weak half-measures on Tarantino’s part. Never intended as a feature release, Tarantino’s film originally followed on from Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror as the second half of Grindhouse, an elaborate attempt to recreate the feel of cheap-theatre double bills.
After the three-hour package flopped at the US box office, producer Harvey Weinstein repeated his Kill Bill strategy, literally cutting the film into two pieces. As a result, Planet Terror, plus the faux interval trailers created by Rodriguez, Eli Roth, Edgar Wright and Rob Zombie, are all currently sitting on the shelf with no scheduled UK release date at present.
That means the UK won’t be seeing Bruce Willis as ‘The Man Who Shot Bin Laden’, Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu, or a close up shot of Tarantino’s genitals melting on to the floor like pizza topping.
But more frustratingly, we also won’t really see the point of Death Proof. With characters, dialogue, performers, music cues, story elements and sets doubling up in each film, the Grindhouse feature returned Tarantino to the heights of the post-modern, reflexive storytelling of Pulp Fiction. But what the hell, if you only see Death Proof, you are still in for a bumpy, occasionally exhilarating ride.
General release from Fri 21 Sep.